April 2, 2011 by Jennifer Simmons
BENTON, Ky. - He had it won today before he ever weighed in a bass. Jeremy Ethridge of Nashville, Tenn., caught a mind-boggling 60 pounds, 15 ounces of bass out of Kentucky Lake over three days to claim the EverStart Series Central Division win by a dominating 11-pound, 6-ounce margin.
Even fate seems to have played a hand in Ethridge's victory. He decided during day-one boat launch to forsake his original plan and go fish a spot he found in practice, and by the time he was handed his winning check of $32,913, that single spot had produced for him every bass he weighed in during the tournament.
Making his tale even more surreal was that every one of those bass was caught on the same bait, and not just any bait - a beat-up old Strike King Series 5 crankbait that was missing an eye, earning itself the nickname One-Eyed Jack. Like a wizard's wand, One Eyed Jack seemed made for Ethridge alone, as he handed the bait to his co-angler at one point and told him to aim it on the sweet spot. The co-angler never got a bite.
As for Ethridge, he got bit - a lot. On day one he caught a limit weighing 23 pounds, 3 ounces to end the day in second. He took a commanding 9-pound, 5-ounce lead on day two with another limit weighing 27 pounds, 14 ounces. He only caught three today worth 9 pounds, 14 ounces, but in the end it didn't matter what he brought to the scales. The tournament was over before he weighed in his first bass.
One stump, one hole, one bait
"I had a lot better tournament than I thought I would have," Ethridge said. "The first day at blastoff, I was headed somewhere other than where I stopped - chasing ghosts. I turned the boat around and went the other way. The best I can tell, I didn't see anybody close to me."
The spot Ethridge originally had in mind Thursday morning was a place recommended to him by his tournament roommates Mike Hollingshead (who took second place in this event) and noted Kentucky/Barkley pro Sam Lashlee, who ultimately finished 42nd.
"The morning of the tournament, I thought, `You can't catch somebody else's fish,'" he said. So he moved on to an area around Big Sandy, just sitting on the river.
"It was one stump, one hole," he said. "I found it in practice and caught one bass off it. It's an area known for big fish, but I didn't see anybody there. I might have seen some crappie fishermen. I caught every fish I caught off the same stump."
As for One-Eyed Jack, Ethridge thinks its handicap, so to speak, is what made it such a hot bait for him this week.
"It's blind in one eye, so it can't see those big bass coming after him," he said with a laugh.
The week began with a lot of talk about the falling water levels, and conditions played right to Ethridge's advantage - and to a lot of people's disadvantage.
"I'd like to thank the Corps of Engineers for pulling water out of those bushes," he said. "There are some legends on this lake, and they've got bush after bush after bush. I've had a great time and worked hard all week."
Fate, luck, hard work and a little help from his friends, particularly Hollingshead, made Ethridge a lot richer today.
"This is what I dreamed about as a kid," said Ethridge, who fished only his second-ever FLW Outdoors event this week. "I owe it all to Mike Hollingshead - he's my boss, my sponsor, my mentor and my friend."
Hollingshead moves from third to second
After spending two days in the No. 3 spot, Mike Hollingshead of Murfreesboro, Tenn., brought in one of only three limits on the final day to move up on the day it counted, earning $11,285 as the second-place finisher.
Hollingshead caught 49 pounds, 9 ounces of bass over three days, his best day being day one, when he weighed in 23 pounds, 1 ounce. He followed that up on day two with 14 pounds and weighed in five today worth 12 pounds, 8 ounces.
"I was catching them on river drops in the mouths of creeks on a Strike King Red Eye Shad in the sexy shad color," he said. "I pulled up on some spots and the fish were there. I started out on a spinnerbait and then went to a jig. Then that slowed down, and I went with the sexy shad and a Series 5 the rest of the time."
Anderson leaps from 10th to third
Weighing in another of the day's three limits was Brent Anderson of Kingston Springs, Tenn., with a three-day total of 47 pounds, 7 ounces that earned him $9,404 as the third-place finisher.
Anderson brought in 14 pounds, 9 ounces on day one and worked his way into the top 10 on day two with a catch weighing 16 pounds, 6 ounces. He improved that by a hair today, weighing in five worth 16 pounds, 8 ounces.
"I was fortunate to spend all three days on that one little school I found on Tuesday," he said. "I caught them on everything in my boat."
Anderson made a 67-mile run every day to New Johnsonville, keying on a 50-yard stretch of creek channel ledge that had a school of shad hanging around a few stumps.
"I went back and forth, four to six hours a day, mixing up baits," he said, including a Strike King 5XD and a Series 5 Silent crankbait. Colors included a chartreuse blueback, citrus shad and, of course, sexy shad, the color of choice for many of this week's contenders.
"I caught probably 60 fish a day, and my weight went up a little each day," he said. "I thinned out the smaller fish and got them out of the way. I couldn't get a bait to the big ones because of the little ones."
Fox stays close, lands in fourth
Earning fourth-place honors is day-one leader Travis Fox of Rogers, Ark., with a three-day total of 45 pounds. He caught 23 pounds, 13 ounces Thursday but was never quite able to reach that again, bringing in 17-15 yesterday but only one bass worth 3-4 today.
"Kentucky Lake is my favorite stop anywhere, bar none," he said. "I can't get over how good this fishery is and how kind the people are."
While many leaders chose to make the long run this week, Fox played it close, fishing main-river ledges in 6 to 8 feet of water.
"I was targeting staging areas for prespawn bass, throwing a 1/2-ounce green pumpkin PJ's Finesse football-head jig with a green pumpkin pocket craw trailer," he said. "I was dragging it, fishing it ultra-slow."
Fox earned $8,463 for his fourth-place finish.
McMullin takes fifth
Like Fox, fifth-place finisher Bobby McMullin stayed close, fishing between the launch site at Moors Marina and Kentucky Dam.
"I just jumped secondary points with a jerkbait," he said. "On some main-lake laydowns I fished a jig. With a little luck, I caught the key fish during the tournament instead of practice."
McMullin caught 15-10 on day one, 16-15 on day two and 10-9 today to bring his three-day total to 43-2, good for $7,523.
"In practice I never caught a fish over 3 pounds," he said. "This one reversed, and I caught them when it counted."
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top 10 pro qualifiers for the Kentucky Lake event:
6th: Todd Hollowell of Fishers, Ind., 42-13
7th: Tom Silber of Labadie, Mo., 39-13
8th: Tim Sprouse of Clarksville, Tenn., 36-0
9th: Brian Fitzpatrick of LaCrosse, Wis., 35-10
10th: Travis Loyd of Kinmundy, Ill., 34-0
EverStart Series Central Division action resumes July 14-16 on the Detroit River in Trenton, Mich.